March 05, 2023
If you have come here looking for data on power numbers or calories consumed during an Ironman distance triathlon (all be it an “ex” one, more on that later) then you are going to be very disappointed. Despite many people thinking that’s the info they need, it is absolutely not. The data, the numbers, that’s all the easy stuff, the simple math, what you need is so much more. So no matter who you are keep reading as I am confident I will give you what you really need…….need, not necessarily like…..that’s the key. Read on!
RAKMAN was born after watching possibly a disproportionate amount of You Tube on “extreme triathlons” which in short are the full Ironman distance of 3.86km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run with the twist of more challenging landscape / conditions across the three disciplines. (I explain a bit more here in my earlier article on the event.) Traditionally these events are over subscribed so pretty much as I often do I decided to create my own.
Why do you need someone to tell you when to race, a deadline, a marked course, a starters gun? Why do you need to conform to the system? Why not test your ultimate honesty in a different way. No one will know if you do not do it right, as few, if any will be there for you at the finish line. Those thoughts scare many but somehow they excite me. You could argue it removes pressure but the topic of pressure is something totally different and now is not the time to dive into it.
The reality is it’s so simple to stop, to quit, it’s not a real event anyway, it counts for nothing. You can just get in the car which you keep seeing for support at any time and go home and be comfortable again. I mean when it’s just you against you what do you have to prove and to who? The answer is simple. This is nothing about proving anything to anyone. RAKMAN was about setting out to achieve something that I thought would challenge me in many ways, lead me to some new things and enable me to feel just a little bit more alive and connected to the real me. RAKMAN was personal, these things have to be.
A 4:24am meet for a 4:29am leave if you have the right people around you always means a 4:12am meet for a 4:14am leave with everything in place. It sets the tone, it’s unwritten but it happens every time. Everyone has everything, we are ready and in this a huge sense of calm clouds over us. The calm that is always needed for a day that is going to be as long as this Friday March 3rd 2023.
It’s not only the insane support of Carlin, Tom and Rob that allows me to take on such events. There are often other moving parts, people behind the scenes that do amazing things and want for nothing in return. Today our friend Craig has arranged access for us to the Hilton Hotel and Resort in Ras Al Khaimah so we can use their piece of Ocean for our swim.
Our arrival through the special tradesman’s entrance just before 6 is seamless. For the first time in my life a security guard has been expecting me and welcomes us with a smile. There are no complications to comply with or formalities to complete and at 6:20 we start our swim. Unsurprisingly the first “lap” if you will across the sea front of the Hilton hotel is a bit disorientating but enables us to establish what we are in for here…..just another 5 of these and we will be out! It is on the second when something somehow comes over me and I guess I realize this is happening. I get this insanely calm feeling of what an incredible day we are about to have. “This is it” I think to myself as I try to avoid the water from choking me through my massive smile. Have I already entered a flow state? Regardless I just know this is going to be one of the most unreal days of my life.
Just under 3.9km later and that’s the swim done. Strangely it went faster than I thought it would. I have swam since I was young and love the water, this part of the event never really phased me but this was the longest distance I had swam for a few years and had not done this distance in training. No stress. Life was good as we made our way up to the cars to transition into our bike kit and get ready for the perhaps longer part of the day. Having Tom and Carlin supporting us and Rob doing his normal things like turning up in mismatching cycling kit always keeps these moments entertaining and the energy super positive. Nothing is a stress, nothing drains our energy, it doesn’t need to, we do not want it to, we have other places to spend it.
We navigate the RAK morning rush hour of a couple of cars and a bit of wildlife with expert safety car drivers Tom and Carlin and are soon met by the beautiful mountain landscape and an insane headwind. “The day has begun” I think to myself. Then I realize it has really begun for us as I somehow calculate that the direction of the prevailing winds will push us up the mountain for the most part. Strange concept and in reality the only real benefit is mental but that in itself is huge. It’s just before we start the first climb that Rob tells me to crack on and he will just do repeats until I have hit 180km. Whilst I know this is coming it leaves me a bit empty inside for a few minutes. We have done a lot together, he motivates and inspires me and always says yes. It is hard to leave him but as I settle into my first climb I am alone, breathe deep a few times and smile. It’s going to be good, for both of us. Harder maybe, same distance still, different, whatever it is it is and it’s allll good! Ha.
With a few KM to go on my first climb I see some more cyclists on the mountain. As I near them I realize its Andrea and Naj. I’m blown away. They have given up their time to come and ride on the mountain today and say hi and offer their support. Unreal. Their energy lifts me to the top of the first climb, back down and back up the second. Thanks for coming ladies. That was huge!
It’s the third climb where the party starts. Around 5 hours in the saddle and the heat of the day (35 degrees) on the second climb took some of my power. I knew it early in the climb which is a good and bad thing. Good that I could manage it but not so good as it was going to be a long climb. Each climb was 18.8km long with around 1,000m elevation so if you are not having a whole load of fun in the first few KM then it is quite a bit of time to sort your shit out or just suffer. Concentration goes up to focus on the job at hand but it’s hard to stay cognitively alert and push the pedals the way I want to. In stages each lapse. My mind knows I still have one more climb after this and then a run, my legs also know and of course they are connected. Are the thoughts negative? Depends how you look at them. I looked at them as realistic and I knew they were there so I let them be, I think of them as just sitting on one shoulder or another and coming on a ride up the mountain with me. I know what I am here for and I know I will do it but I know these moments have to happen. Whilst I do not love them I find a weird amount of beauty in them. They are special and need to be treated that way.
My mind goes back to some of my earlier words on self made events and I get into a nice debate with myself. Life is full of guidelines and rules, it’s nice, it helps things work, allows us to focus and often motivates us to achieve. In races we read the race notes, we know where the aid stations will be, where support may be, we set goals to get to this or to that, it helps us. Here I can stop at any time, I will have no one to tell me to get back on the bike, I could sit for ten minutes, there is no one around. Is that easier or harder? I don’t have an answer. I don’t think it’s a smart debate. What I know is I find this stuff more raw, more feral in parts, more spiritual in others. The time I get alone with just my thoughts to have debates like this seems to help me, it’s pure, there are no distractions, nothing to help you try and numb any pain you may be feeling, no real safety nets. Inconclusive but for me and the direction my boat is sailing today this all made sense and although this debate came on the third climb slightly earlier than I had thought I welcomed it and kept riding.
After a slight change in strategy for the fourth climb and having been in the saddle for just over 8 hours, my 180km ride with 4,450m of climbing was complete. I was welcomed to our transition at the top of the mountain by not only a smiling Rob and Carlin but Joao who had decided to give up his Friday evening to come and run a marathon with us, what a guy. Some food, some laughs and we set off down the mountain on foot, with some super nice cycling tan to go with us in our short running shorts. Could not have been better.
The first 18km was back down the mountain. Psychologically easier, physiologically I could have had anyone’s legs on but I am quite sure they did not feel like my own! Suddenly we were 4km in and I just blurted out 9 rounds left. How my mind works in situations like this! You may think the additional company brings some more chat to the party. It does not. The energy of having people there is more than enough. Some random jokes here and there, many of which are probably not even funny and that’s about all the chat we had for each other. As the mountain started to flatten out the game changed again, we needed to run out to the 25km point to turn around. It was on our way to the turn around where it was no longer a physical endeavor. I was in pain, I knew it, you can not fight it. My legs hurt, my guts hurt, I was thirsty as hell, hungry but when I ate I wanted to vomit. (wanna do one of these things, should I go on) I guess the good thing is all these things I have experienced before, there is some pay off for being addicted to these kind of “hobbies” I guess. That previous experience helps, it does not help ease the pain but it gives you peace that this is the way it’s meant to be and that the way to make it end faster is to keep moving forward, and so you do. Simplicity!
32km and it’s time for the final climb, 10km and 1,200m elevation. If I had not been tested so far (which I had) then this was for sure going to give me a fairly decent run for my money. We had a longer than expected break just before we headed onto the trail as from here we could be anywhere up to 3 hours to the end and needed to have all of our food and water on us as there was no access to any along the way. We had done this trail in the daylight a few years ago so knew it was passable. We also thought we remembered the severity of some of the climbs as well as the sketchiness of some of the drop offs. But of course when it is pitch black the dynamics change. It was wild. You are climbing up a black wall and the next minute dancing on a 50p piece to stay on the more preferred side of the rock. There is no judge of distance and you only destroy yourself checking your watch for time too often. Your legs want to remind you that riding what you have ridden is out of their scope of work for one day never mind topping it off with this, but in your mind you know each step you take will take you closer to what you want in so many ways. It’s totally unreal and quite hard to describe so I apologize if none of this makes sense or I sound like I am high.
With 2km left on the watch we see the lights of the finish. “It’s nearly over” I think to myself, and then two minutes later I go the opposite way “is it just the start?” No need to make these big life decisions at times like these, there will be better times for them I think to myself.
Just under 18 hours after we started swimming the run and our work for the day is complete. We stop at the car where Carlin meets us with his camera, his warm smile and a high five. We all hug. It’s done. People around us go about their BBQ’s, there is no fanfare, we do not need it, nor want it, that’s not what we came for. I guess we are RAKMEN! How knows, who decides, who cares, does it matter!
What did I learn? This is a question I have asked multiple times and at the point of writing have not being able to bullet point the learnings. I have two schools of thought here. Perhaps all the learnings are camouflaged in the musings above or perhaps I am looking for an outcome that was not an objective. The objective was to experience what a challenge like this would be like. To try and understand what those faces that had inspired me to take this on were feeling inside. This challenge was about feelings, emotions, there were many.
After an event Holly always cooks something special for me when I come back. With her being away I was faced with a partial dilemma. No, not just about what to eat but about not having my best friend to share my emotion with. To listen to me and then tell me to give it a rest when enough is enough. What is that about not knowing what we got until it’s gone. Saturday was tough, it was loaded or perhaps over loaded with emotion, loaded with thoughts. I let them all be. Some hit me harder than others. When I thought my appreciation of my wife could not be higher, the game was raised, I love you sweetheart.
So did it or did it not advance me as a human being? Did I or did I not find what I was looking for and why do I think that is important to my advancement? I think I have an answer here. Things like this are my advancement as a human and in doing them I find small pieces to what is essentially the jigsaw of my life and I absolutely love it. I would not be telling the whole truth if I did not mention how at times on the Saturday after the event I found myself filled with emotion and at times with damp eyes. In reflection the dampness possibly signified I was and or had experienced everything that I had gone out there for.
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